Counting Miles, Not Calories

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Counting Miles, Not Calories

Awareness improves dietary carbon footprint.

Three years ago, as a new intern at CATALYST Magazine, one of my first assignments was to track my “food mileage” for a day. Tracking food mileage is just like making a food diary, but instead of calories you are counting miles that food traveled to get to your plate.

The assignment was in preparation for Salt Lake’s annual Eat Local Week, where people pay attention to the origins of their food and aim to up their intake of local products—”local” defined as you wish, usually less than a 250-mile radius.

We have not found a source that calculates the numbers on carbon emissions from shipping a meal-sized quantity of food from point A to point B. Train, boat or plane? The bottom line is that we’ve demonstrated to ourselves that our food choices, like so much else in our lives, have a carbon footprint. CO2 pollution matters because it traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

My final mileage for one day, three years ago, came out at 20,936 miles.

At this point, the idea of the 100-mile diet started to become clearer to me. In the spirit of this year’s Eat Local Week (September 9-16), I am revisiting this exercise. (See sidebar.)

I have cut my food mileage in half and I’m proud of that! Chia seeds and coffee come from afar and are not locally replaceable; I’m not giving them up, but I honor their journey when I consume them. I’m getting to know my local farmers, artisans and bakers at all the markets around town.

So as you continue to avoid gluten and sugar and restrain yourself from carbs, I propose this: Look, first, to local providers. Shop at farmers markets (real ones, not out-of-state chain grocers that pretend). Note how far your food has traveled (it’s there on the label) and ask yourself: Could I be enjoying something local right now? Breakfast: 8,490 miles

Milk+Honey Yogurt

  • milk: Redmond Farm 140 miles
  • production: Springville 50 miles

Bulk oats from Sprouts (Mid-Western United States) 1,000 miles)

Chia seeds (Central Mexico) 1,300 miles

Coffee (Ecuador) 6,000 miles

Lunch: 1,460 miles

Abigail’s Oven Dutch Oven Sourdough Bread

  • Grain supplier: West Mountain Grain in Spanish Fork, 50 miles. Grain is grown here then shipped to Logan for organic milling to make the flour, then it is returned to Spanish Fork, 260 miles roundtrip.

Basil growing in my windowsill 0 miles.

Mozzarella cheese from Epicurean Chefs.

  • milk: Rosehill Dairy, Orem 40 mi.
  • cheese curd: Wisconsin, 1,100 mi.

Local Love from Vive Juice

  • beets: Frog Bench Farm, SLC, 10 mi.
  • chard: Keep It Real Vegetables, SLC, 10 mi.
  • carrots, apples, lemons and ginger: Muir Copper Canyons Produce distributors. *All produce is not available year round, especially here in Utah. There may be seasons where all the carrots and apples are local, but there will never be a season where the lemons and ginger are local. Vive Juice consistently pushes to support local farmers but when we want full-flavored juices year round, they cannot promise that the “Local Love” will truly be local.

Dinner: 700 miles

Butternut Squash Soup, Epicurean Chefs.

  • All ingredients are gathered in trade from the Downtown Farmers Market, est. 100 miles total.

Shredded Mary’s Chicken (Central Valley, California, 600 miles)

Total mileage: 10,570 miles

Jane Lyon graduated from the University of Utah in Sustainability and now works at CATALYST. She is a former staff intern.

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